Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth is something that manages to check off pretty much every box to be a generic low-budget JRPG. While the game tries its best to be charming, thanks to the colourful localization, the environments around you lack any kind of liveliness.
The game uses a bright palette, with a lot of electric blues, yellows and reds and the characters have a decent level of detail to them. Most aren’t overly designed, save for a few eccentric characters where it fits. Regardless, the most important thing to get right here are the Digimon, and those they did. Each Digimon included here, about 242 in total, looks fantastic. They’re animated well and the three in your party follow closely behind you as you explore dungeons.
When they’re not trailing behind you, they’re plodding away in the Digifarm, something like the Pokémon day care center, except without all that price gouging. Digimon on the farm are able to train themselves, search for more detective work or produce items for you to use in battle, provided you toss them some yen—because obviously Digimon don’t work for free.
What I really enjoyed about Cyber Sleuth was that catching Digimon wasn’t done by weakening them. Instead, it’s all based on encountering the same one and scanning them bit-by-bit until you hatch one at the Digi Lab. From there you can pop them into the farm, level them up while you’re out completing the story and side missions then pop back in to Digivolve them to make them more powerful.
The levelling system in this game is crazy fast, which is great because Digimon have so many different evolutionary branches to reach it would be agonizing otherwise. You can also combine Digimon together to make stronger ones, in fact the Digi Lab, for all intents and purposes, is basically the velvet room from Persona.
Where combat is concerned, it’s the usual routine of menu, turn-based combat. Where Cyber Sleuth tries to get interesting is the way in which you exploit weaknesses. There are the typical elemental weaknesses, much like Pokémon, but it’s actually a layered system. First, there’s the actual type of Digimon, which can be a virus, data or vaccine type, and you’ll do extra or less damage depending on which type of Digimon is attacking, and then elements come into play. It’s going to take time to remember how the symbols relate to each other, but it’s great when you get it to work for you.
Worry not, because you’re not going to have to get that system down—at least not for the first ten hours or so of the game because it’s just so easy. You’ll most likely find yourself using the auto-battle system as you go back through the first dungeon over and over for side quests. When a challenge shows up it cranks up the difficulty real fast, but typically only for that fight. Outside of doing boss battles with other Digimon trainers though, the game resumes throwing easy enemies at you.
Where the narrative is concerned, it’s extremely light on story beats in the beginning, despite using such an interesting hook. The concerns of said hook are promptly swept to the side though, because you’ve got side quests to do! As a result of joining a detective agency, your main task is to help clear the job board in the office by taking on clients.
What’s most misleading is that I found most of the quests that actually trigger the plot aren’t in your office, but out hiding somewhere in the real world or the digital one. You’ll have to actively search the same places over and over until you find the right person to move you ahead in the story. What makes this most annoying, is that the world feels empty and boring despite being teeming with life. The act of having to find the one person with an exclamation point above their head just feels like a hollow and contrived way to drag out time.
Now, Kuremi, your boss, as well as the lady running the Digi Lab will give you hints, but if you put down Cyber Sleuth after starting a quest, it can be easy to lose where you were. There isn’t a recap and the hint given to you by your boss or within your menu isn’t helpful after you started the quest; it gives no direction or location.
Perhaps this is an attempt to make you feel more like a detective in hunting down clues, except the game only spoon feeds “clues” bit by bit when it wants to give them to you. There’s no deduction or thought process needed to actually complete any of this. Only the narrative is treated as a mystery, the actual gameplay is just going to where characters tell you where to go and doesn’t involve the player actually solving anything.
To be fair, the side quests try to do something interesting with the Digimon in some way. A large chunk of the story revolves around how the Digital World and our world can merge in places. It looks at the effects of Digimon interacting with and being susceptible to human emotions. However none of these side quests managed to really dig deep, instead, they opted to merely present the concept and allow the player to think on it.
One of the most grating issues with the game is the constant use of technobabble. It pours out of every character’s mouth like water from a burst dam. The problem is compounded when some characters try to rename or use a different term for the same thing. More often than not I found myself sitting through dialogue that I could barely make sense of because every other word was jargon.
While the story can be an absolute bore in the beginning stretches of the game and doesn’t offer much until it picks up speed, it’s still a halfway entertaining game and one of the better uses of the license.